Jonneine Zapata
The Zoo, Brisbane
October 7, 2010

Tables. Not. Good. That’s the first thing I notice when I climb up The Zoo’s stairs. Tables are usually laid out to bolster an undersold room. Still I’m excited, Zapata’s album Cast the Demons Out came out of nowhere and managed to do what it said on the cover and all signs (aka blogs and fan Youtube footage) indicated that it was on stage where she really excelled. Comparisons have been bandied around from PJ Harvey and Patti Smith for their strong, dynamic vocal ranges to Jim Morrison and Mick Jagger for their bold sexual stage presence. While she imparts some of those qualities she is Jonneine Zapata and Jonneine Zapata only. Apart from smoldering mic stand gripping her onstage persona also alternates between standing still with an ice cold stare, swaying her arms aloft like an eagle, and my favourite, lurching around the stage like a drunken marionette. Unsettling? Maybe, but it’s never boring.

The band is comprised of LA musos who have probably seen more dirty rock clubs than I’ve seen dirty ticket stubs. They stand in the shadows but are essential to Zapata’s power. That power takes some time to build, with the sparse ballads from Cast The Demons Out seemingly swallowed by the distance between performer and audience. It’s not until “Good Looking” with its chiming riff and “I’m good looking” truism and the visceral anti-war punk of “Cowboy”, that the crowd leave the comfort of of their tables and edge closer to the stage.

The final song “Worry” is driven by a basic, relentless, blues guitar riff mirrored by the bass. On the album the drums are subtle to the point of being anaemic, while each word is enunciated with not exactly politeness but with a certain reserve. Tonight the track is extended from three odd minutes to almost eight; the drums pound like jack hammers, the words are almost shouted while the guitars, especially the extended thrashing solo sear every part of your anatomy.

While the audience (and more than likely the band) are thinking of a shower to cool off, to our surprise Zapata and company glide back on stage for a take on Springsteen’s bleak “State Trooper” which first found a home on Nebraska twenty-eight years ago. Zapata takes the moderate tempo down a notch further managing to distill the menace and madness to an ever greater degree. Coupled with her piercing stare lines like “Maybe you got a kid/Maybe you got a pretty wife/The only thing that I got been bothering me my whole life” are unnervingly convincing.

Photos: Stephen Goodwin.